Joshua Burnside at The Duncairn, Belfast

 On Friday evening (30th November), Joshua Burnside brought his UK tour in support of latest EP ‘All Round the Light Said’ to the impressive surroundings of the Duncairn Arts Centre in North Belfast. The former church has been renovated to keep the beautiful interiors much the same, with large, arched windows and stained glass prominent. Playing an acoustic set in such surroundings, Burnside provided a set that felt almost spiritual. 

Tearing through a setlist of songs spanning his debut full length album, 2017’s NI Music Prize Album of the Year ‘EPHRATA’, his newest EP and songs pre-dating both, the audience was captivated throughout the hour-long set. Of course, breaks in the immersed silence while Burnside was playing occurred from time-to-time. In particular, during songs such as ‘Blood Drive’, ‘Holllllogram’ and ‘Tunnels, Pt.2’. This trio of tracks from ‘EPHRATA’ not only had the crowd’s toes tapping, but had the majority singing along. A warm atmosphere endured throughout the night, with the crowd bursting with nothing but pride and adoration for a local musician proving his salt.

The political undertones of playing in the North were noted by Burnside just before performing ‘Red and White Blues’, a song condemning the UVF that he said is always popular when he plays in the ‘glorious East’, but wasn’t sure of how it would go down in North Belfast. “I was too young to care what flag was flown above me…Don’t paint my pavement red, white and blue, I’ll paint it grey it’s my street too” he croons to a silent audience, all focused upon the lyrics that resonate with a large proportion of those of us from Northern Ireland. Burnside describes perfectly the frustration of growing up on one side of the divide, but not supporting the extremes of that side.

Although noting that his “witty banter” isn’t great – especially when tuning his guitar on stage – I’d say Burnside isn’t as bad as he thinks. “So I have one song left alone, one with the band, then we’ll walk off and sit down and you guys will say ‘one more tune, one more tune!’ and we’ll all feel great and play another tune’, he joked to the crowd before doing so. Sitting amongst the crowd at the back of the room, to a room full of unending applause, Burnside laughed and took the stage for one final tune. The chosen ‘last tune’ was ‘Northern Winds‘, a stand-out track from the newest EP. It’s a song that builds as it grows, and elicits goosebumps and silence from the crowd until the refrain kicks in and everyone sings along: “oh where is my little swallow / I have no golden armour to share / you may clock out my blue eyes / tear out my tongue, tear out my tongue / well I’ve seen this iron sky before / and I’ve sang this sorry song one too many times”.

As the drums build and the song becomes textured with a canon of vocals, the crowd evidently doesn’t want the gig to end. With Joshua Burnside’s final bow of the evening and as a lengtly applause from the audience endures, it’s clear to see that the shared space of The Duncairn has achieved the focus on shared experiences and culture that it was established to achieve. A wonderful night of local live music, and one the crowd surely won’t forget.